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12/11/10 2:08 PM EST

Ellsbury likely to lead off; Crawford after him?

Francona begins to mull lineup options with new hitters in fold

BOSTON -- Right around the time the news became public -- that Carl Crawford was coming to the Red Sox -- the lineup projections started. They were put together by analysts, bloggers, talk-show callers, etc.

On Saturday, the man who actually gets to write out that lineup card for 2011 was at Fenway Park. It isn't in manager Terry Francona's nature to reveal what his lineup will be nearly four months from Opening Day.

But he knows that he has a plethora of good possibilities, and is in what amounts to a no-lose situation.

"It's a place where people care about their team," Francona said. "That's all right. They're supposed to have fun with that. But you know, it's probably getting a little ahead of ourselves, but it's fun. They like their team and they're supposed to. If they're getting excited about what our batting order is in December, that bodes well for our team."

Last season, Francona's challenge was simply to find enough healthy bodies to field a starting lineup. Next season, he will be determining things like which All-Star should bat second, and which one might slide down to the sixth spot.

Francona, who prides himself on preparation, will pore over all of it in the coming weeks and months.

He did indicate that Crawford is most likely to hit second or third, and Dustin Pedroia will likely hit in whichever spot Crawford doesn't.

"I'll sit down with Carl, I'll sit down with Pedey," said Francona. "Obviously [Crawford's] going to hit somewhere in the top of the order -- second or third, but we want to have some balance, as much as we can, with Adrian [Gonzalez] and [Kevin Youkilis] following, and David [Ortiz] and J.D. [Drew]. There's some things to think about. At the same time, if they hit, it's not an issue for me. We're not asking guys to do different things because they're hitting in different areas. We just want them to be the players they are, and we'll line it up where it works best."

While Crawford certainly could hit leadoff, Jacoby Ellsbury -- who missed most of last season with fractured left ribs -- will probably keep his spot at the top of the order.

"I think I've been pretty consistent all along in saying our best team is when Jacoby is hitting first," Francona said. "Is that Opening Day? Is it May 1? Whatever is probably in his best interest ends up being in our best interest. He missed pretty much the full year. If he's ready to do that, that's great. If not, we can give him a little bit of a break and hit him down in the order a little bit. We've done that in the past and we can do it again. But I still think our best lineup is when he leads off."

In Crawford, Gonzalez, Ortiz, Drew and Ellsbury, the Red Sox have five left-handed hitters in their starting nine.

That will be another balancing act for Francona.

"Well, at some point, you're going to have two, maybe three [lefties] on some days in a row," Francona said. "Thankfully they're good hitters. We'll try to line it up. Again, I need to do some thinking on that. The last couple of years, David and J.D. haven't been quite as strong against left-handers. Adrian has. There's ways maybe you can line it up where you can take away some of the other manager's [options]. ... If they have one good lefty, don't let him mow down four or five good lefties. There's some things we can do."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.